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A Compassionate, Three-Step Way to Handle Tragedy

When hearts are hurting…

If you had peeked into my life this past week, you might have found me in tears, watching Tia Coleman share her story of survival and loss in the Table Rock Lake tragedy. Events like these often prompt reactions of “I can’t imagine” or “I don’t know what you’re going through but I’m so sorry.”

But is it that we really can’t imagine or that we’d rather not? Though it’s not the easy route, my process for handling heartbreak starts with empathy.

  •   Step 1: Feel Others’ Pain

It’s hard for me to watch the news because I internalize the pain that’s being reported, leaving me in a sad, fearful, hopeless state. Yet, there are times when I’m drawn to someone’s story, with the feeling that my heart is a necessary part of their healing process.

It’s then that I watch the terrifying/heart wrenching/bittersweet videos of firsthand accounts and allow myself to imagine their pain as my own. And it hurts. But it also allows me to move to the second step from a place of authenticity.

  •   Step 2: Send Love

I can’t remember which book I read this in but it spoke of sending love mentally by first imagining the person and then positive, loving energy flowing from your heart to theirs. Lastly, you close the loop by feeling the love returning to you.

I use this all the time with my kids, especially if they’ve had a rough morning or don’t want to go to school or are feeling nervous about an event that day. I tell them I’ll send them a mental hug and when to expect it. Later that day when I ask if they received my love, my son will usually ask if I got his message back to me!

  •   Step 3: Act with Compassion

We all likely know the warmth of compassion on either the giving or receiving end, but did you know the word’s definition also includes this?

“…accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering”—dictionary.com

I see this as having two parts, each with a question to guide our future actions:

1) “How can I directly help these people?” It may be a monetary donation, a gift of supplies, prayers, or more of Step 2.

2) “How can I honor the lives lost and support the grieving survivors?” This is when we look at our own loved ones and our lives and amp up the gratitude. It’s when we show up fully present in our interactions with them. It’s also when we show kindness to those we don’t know, as a way to balance the world’s new hurt with love. And it’s living purposefully and passionately.

Doing these things says “I honor you by living fully and lovingly and by not taking for granted those treasures you have lost.”

 So if a tragedy is tugging at your heart, go where the hurt is and feel it. But don’t stop there, because just beyond the pain is love.

Please pass along this article to anyone with an open heart and a desire to help.


  1. Maria Cecilia Victoria says:

    As a writer and an artist, I can get crafty with words and phrases that even my readers tend to envy me even for my pain…yet, it seems to me that in the midst of a great tragedy, there is always a possibility of a silver lining…a light at the end of the tunnel…yes, you are right…’because just beyond the pain is love’… for when a tragedy strikes, what we see or observe are human hearts and love and pain…we all love each other…deep down inside, we do…and when we see another soul in pain, we cannot help but hurt, too…for when something tragic happens in life, the goodness of humanity stands out even more…and that is what we need to strive for…

    Inf. Maria Cecilia Victoria
    -A Creative Journey Through Life –

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